Our Country

Driving southward on the New Jersey Turnpike from New York in an open convertible, in late afternoon, the sun slowly sinking into orange, red, then disappearing, the sky turning darker to violet, deep blue-violet, then falling away into a breathless void, the other cars and trucks roaring, grinding and with the wind making a hellish din, the great chemical and manufacturing complexes stretching away across the swamps as far as you could see until your eye meets the tall shining buildings of Manhattan and Newark on the two sides, the roar of a jet taking off at Newark Airport which suddenly seems very close by, the industries finally thinning out and giving way to the lush, quiet farmlands broken here and there by a cluster of suburban box-houses – I thought: I’m going home. Home? I am home, this is America, baby.

Once again, that vision came – the land of awesome power and wealth, the discordant jumble of sights and sounds, the youthful brazen vitality, the optimism that has been the source of growth and health and also of the constant danger of arrogance, contempt, and violence toward the rest of the world. The land, also, of the sullen Black community that hasn’t made it according to prevailing standards yet gave back a music that is the greatest artistic expression of the land. The land of gentler people who have tried to find a better life beyond and away from the raucous machinery – on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, in Upstate New York, in the mountains of Appalachia, in Haight-Ashbury of San Francisco. The land that belongs to all its people, and that all have a right to possess.

We are all wanderers in this land – although we are at home anywhere within its width and breadth, our house is very big, it has many rooms. The vast flat Maine woodland, the craggy White Mountains, ancient, aristocratic, fragile Boston, the grand primitive Adirondacks, the dense dirty fantastic world-city New York, spacious elegant Washington, mild sun-tanned smooth-beached Florida, damp romantic New Orleans, vast, hot, energetic, casual Texas, quiet many-colored empty-spaced Arizona, the snow-capped lush-valleyed Sierras, the steep rough wet Coast Range, vast relaxed small-town sunbathed Los Angeles, foggy clean-breathed vivacious San Francisco, high-cliffed wave-crashed primeval Pacific Coast: These are some of its many rooms.

Sept. 1967

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